Londoners will be able to access the internet and make phone calls from anywhere on the Tube network within the next five years, Transport for London has announced.
Fulfilling plans a few years in the making, 4G will be slowly rolled out to all stations, tunnels, corridors, and ticket halls on the network, with the aim of delivering full coverage by the “mid-2020s.” The mobile network will deliver speeds fast enough for seamless video streaming, TfL has said.
Jubilee Line passengers will be the first to get connected. 4G will be trialled on newer eastern part of the line, from Westminster to Canning Town—but initially excluding London Bridge and Waterloo Stations—starting from next March.
Travellers can already hop online via Wi-Fi hubs in 260 stations on the Underground, but they lose the connectivity in the tunnels between stations. That’s made the Tube one of the few places in Britain where travellers are out of reach of any phone and internet service.
Other subway systems around the world and even the Channel Tunnel have supported mobile connectivity for years but extending coverage to the London Underground has been especially tricky. The world’s oldest subway system has narrow tunnels, which leave little space for installing mobile connectivity equipment, while twists in the lines, often following the routes of the roads above, make it difficult for signals to travel through them.
“The London Underground network is an incredibly challenging environment in which to deliver technological improvements, but we are now well on the path to delivering mobile connectivity within our stations and tunnels,” said Shashi Verma, chief technology officer at TfL.
Extending coverage through the Tube network will reportedly require 2,000km of cabling. It will all be installed over week-nights to minimise disruption to travellers. TfL will fund the initial Jubilee Line trial, before awarding a contract to a private operator to cover the rest of the Underground. Mobile phone operators will then pay the contractors for access to the 4G network, with TfL receiving a cut.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “This is a really important step for the millions of people who use the Tube each year.”
But uninterrupted video streaming and clear phone calls on the Underground may break the very British silence—except for the screeching of the trains—that currently reigns on the Tube. Expect commuter etiquette to evolve, or carriages to be filled with lots of angry looks and bemused eavesdropping.